The dancer leaned to the side and slowly arched her arm away, fingers fixed in an ancient symbol. She smiled at her audience and stomped to the growing intensity of the music.
She was one of many dancers who performed at India Night 2017 in the Bruce Pitman Center Saturday evening.
“The first part of the dance is starting off a prayer. It means goddess,” the dancer, Smirthya Somaskantha Iyer, said. “Then later on, it’s another kind of a prayer that we say and that just shows who she is and explains who she is.”
Somaskantha Iyer said many traditional Indian dances tell a story.
“I do some dances that tell stories about my favorite god. It’s more like the way I pray,” Somaskantha Iyer said.
She and rest of the Indian Student Association (ISA) showed traditional and contemporary Indian culture to nearly 500 people who attended the event. ISA’s Vice President Abhilash Reddy said the organization likes to share Indian culture and information with the Palouse community.
“This show isn’t just about like dances and food and performances. We are actually giving information like ‘What’s India been up to? Like, what’s the developments?’” Reddy said.
ISA President Lavanya Galla said India Night has been a tradition at UI since 1979. At the event, she said two things come to mind when she mentions India — spicy food and traditional dances. She assured her audience they would get plenty of both.
Sita Shailaja Pappu came with her husband and said there aren’t many events in the Moscow-Pullman area geared toward the Asian or Indian community.
“India night here in Moscow and Diwali night in Pullman, they tend to bring all the Indian community together,” Shailaja Pappu said. “So it’s a good social gathering for us to experience our culture and enjoy the way times are spent and enjoyed in India during festival times.”
She said she looked forward to the traditional dances and seeing young people in the community perform.
Janice Fletcher said she’s lived in Moscow a long time, but this was her first India Night.
“It’s fun. We heard a million people who’ve been here who said, ‘You have to go. It’s really great,’” Fletcher said. “It’s an exciting opportunity to see close up the culture, without even leaving Moscow.”
Many of the dances strayed from the traditional, with some going so far as to look like contemporary music video dancing.
“It’s like a pinch of western dance, like hip-hop, and a pinch of the traditional dance — a mixture of both, and that’s something we really like,” Reddy said. “Some of our girls performed a traditional dance to Game of Thrones music.”
Reddy said his goal of India Night is to expose the Moscow and Pullman community to Indian culture.
“There are some people here that really don’t know about India, the culture and traditions,” Reddy said. “If we could reach out to such people and then throw a line to them about what India is about, the history, the culture the traditions we have, that’d be really great.”
Jack Olson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org